Vladimir Morozov compares the Soviet Union today to a giant gate cracked open just slightly. The former Soviet journalist, who defected to the West last October, says that while the gate is ajar, it is only open far enough for those outside to see what Soviet leaders want them to see.
He questions the depth and durability of the reforms promoted by Mikhail Gorbachev. These changes include freeing of some dissidents and increased intellectual and artistic freedoms and limited forms of private enterprise.
``The changes are cosmetic,'' Mr. Morozov insists. ``There are some new outlets for differing views and some problems that can be discussed,'' but the basic structure of the system remains unchanged.
For example, a recent article in the Soviet press gave a much higher number of registered drug addicts in the Soviet Union than previously acknowledged. It was heralded by some analysts outside the Soviet Union as an example of Gorbachev's new policy of openness.
``But the article then went on to compare this with much higher numbers in the West - it was the same old propaganda,'' says Morozov, who as recently as last summer was traveling around the Soviet Union as a writer for a Soviet trade-union magazine. Part of his job involved checking complaints from readers who wrote to the magazine to report abuses in factories, such as mistreatment of workers by bosses. ``For the average worker and even many union leaders, the `openness' means nothing,'' Morozov says.
Many Soviet workers, he says, are suspicious of calls for modernization and efficiency. Some view it as a trick to get them to work harder. Others worry that if they speak up now, to single out corrupt managers or identify inefficient operations, they may find themselves in trouble when the political winds shift again. ``To see what's happening in the real life of the Soviet Union, you have to look at the lives of the workers - and they aren't getting any better,'' he says.
Morozov's views are echoed by other East-bloc defectors - many of whom are skeptical of Gorbachev's initiatives. So far, they say, the reforms have won the support of Soviet intellectuals. But to succeed, the Soviet leader must get low-ranking party members and average workers behind him. And this may prove difficult, because many of the economic reforms strike at deeply vested interests.
Many defectors, including Morozov, contend that the Soviet policies are at least partly designed to smooth relations with the West. ``They want technology and money from the West,'' Morozov says. By easing the arms race, he adds, the government would have more money to funnel toward modernization.